Officials Confirm Light Fuel Near Ship

Published January 21, 2012 1:36PM (EST)

ROME (AP) — Light fuel, apparently from machinery aboard the capsized Costa Concordia, was detected Saturday in the sea near the ship, Italian Coast Guard officials said Saturday.

But Coast Guard spokesman Cmdr. Cosimo Nicastro says there is no indication that any of the nearly half-million gallons (2,200 metric tons) of heavy fuel oil has leaked from the ship's double-bottomed tanks. Nicastro said Saturday that the leaked substance appears to be diesel, which is used to fuel rescue boats and dinghies and as a lubricant for ship machinery.

There are 185 tons of diesel and lubricants on board the crippled vessel, which is lying on its side just outside the port of the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio. Nicastro described the light fuel's presence in the sea as "very light, very superficial" and appearing to be under control.

Although attention has been concentrated on the heavy fuel oil in the tanks, "we must not forget that on that ship there are oils, solvents, detergents, everything that a city of 4,000 people needs," Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy's civil protection agency, told reporters in Giglio.

Gabrielli, who is leading rescue, search and anti-pollution efforts for the Concordia, was referring to the roughly 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew who were aboard the cruise liner when it ran into a reef near Giglio's coast on Jan. 14, and then, with the sea rushing into a 70-meter (230-foot) gash in its hull, listed and finally fell onto its side.

Considering all the substances aboard the Concordia, "contamination of the environment, ladies and gentlemen, already occurred" when the cruise liner capsized, Gabrielli told a news conference.

Vessels equipped with machinery to suck out the light fuel oil were in the area, Italian officials told Italian TV.

Earlier on Saturday, crews removed oil-absorbing booms used to prevent environmental damage in case of a leak. Originally white, the booms were grayish.

Divers resumed their search of the wreckage after data indicated the cruise ship had stabilized in the sea off Tuscany. To make it easier to enter and leave, the divers blasted more holes into the carcass of the ship. They were hoping to inspect an area where many passengers had gathered during the evacuation.

They were searching for bodies or survivors, although it is considered unlikely any of the 21 missing in the accident could still be alive.

The search had been suspended on Friday after the Concordia shifted, prompting fears the ship could roll off a rocky ledge of sea bed and plunge deeper into the sea. An abrupt shift could also cause a leak in the Concordia's fuel tanks, polluting the pristine waters around Giglio, part of a seven-island Tuscan archipelago.


Barry contributed from Milan. Andrea Foa contributed from Giglio.

By Salon Staff

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